14 October 2010 | robert-temple-1
A mock-profound film about death which fails to ignite
When somebody makes a movie about death which suggests survival and features a medical specialist in a lead, you expect something serious. But this film's purported profundity is only mock-profundity, and no deep thought has gone into this at all. It is just a 'deathsploitation film'. After all, everybody is interested in death, just as they are interested in sex, so why not exploit the genre? You offer the audience a little hope on a platter, cover heavily with a dark and mysterious sauce, and serve. Somebody thought of getting John Malkovich to look eerie and as if he were possessed of arcane knowledge. That was supposed to get everybody going. Malkovich is always good, but he does need a bit of direction now and then, if only to know which way to look and why. But this film is chiefly ruined by the French actor Romain Duris, who plays Nathan, the central character. The reason why he ruins it is that he has two speech impediments as an actor. First of all, his accent is so unreasonably thick and impenetrable that with the best will in the world, one cannot make out much of what he is supposed to be saying in English. (Some serious speech coaching could have cured this!) But even worse than that is his infuriating habit of speaking all of his lines in a deathly whisper. This means that about half of his lines are frankly inaudible, no matter what the sound man tries to do to enhance them. This affectation has spread like a virus amongst certain vain male actors, who all genuinely believe that if they lower their voices to the point where you have to lean forward and strain to hear them at all, they are so much sexier and more fascinating. ('It sucks them in,' I have heard some of them say about the audiences who cannot hear them properly.) Just because Marlon Brando got away with it does not mean that anybody else can. In any case, with Brando it was not an affectation. Having met and talked with him, I can assure everybody that he had an astonishingly weak voice and did not talk like that just to call attention to himself, as so many actors imagine. I have stood right next to him and had to lean forward to strain to hear him despite the fact that he was trying earnestly to make himself understood. (We were discussing the American Indians, a mutual passion we had.) So when people like Duris think they are being Brando, they have got it all wrong! Therefore, however good or bad the film was to be, casting an unrestrained whisperer in the lead automatically condemned this film to failure. A film in which the lead actor cannot be heard might as well not be made. John Malkovich has never made the mistake of failing to articulate every word he has ever spoken in a film, as he is a serious professional. Duris should have his vain little beard shaved off in public, made to recant, and then be publicly spanked by his mother as a bad, bad boy. After all, somebody had to invest money in this thing, and he ruined it. The film is based upon a novel by Guillaume Musso entitled 'Et Après ..' Who knows whether it was good or not? The director co-scripted the film. He is Gilles Bourdos. I have not seen his two previous features. But I should say that his script was unfocused and ineffective and he failed to control Duris, so he struck out, despite the fact that there is nothing particularly wrong with his direction in general. This was a French production made in English in America. There really should be many more of those, and every time one fails like this, it sets back all the others.